Rural healthcare is hard and you have to commit, WVU Medicine CEO says

West Virginia may have one of the least healthy populations in the U.S., and there has to be much more focus on preventive health initiatives as a result, Albert Wright, CEO of Morgantown, W.Va.-based WVU Medicine, told Becker's in a recent interview.

He knows it's a long haul. But it's something that needs to be done over time, and taking steps to reach the eventual goal is all part of the plan.

"Rural healthcare is hard, but it's really hard to commit to it," Mr. Wright said. "You have to lean into it, understand the finances of rural healthcare, the models and the infrastructure."

One initiative to begin the long journey toward improved healthcare outcomes in WVU's home state is the formation of a Medicare Advantage program with the 24-hospital system's Peak Health insurance plan, which will begin Jan. 1. Rather than operate on a fee-for-service model, payments will be capitated.

More preventive screening and home monitoring of patients could be the result of such an initiative, Mr. Wright said.

"The way you change the health trajectory in a population is to incentivize both the patient and the health system, and we see that as an investment in preventive care."

Commitment showing in results?

Even as expenses rose, the system, the largest private employer in West Virginia, recently reported a 3 percent operating margin with operating income of $89.2 million on revenues of $2.9 billion for the first half of 2023.

While management described the 130 days' cash on hand at the time as of "significant concern," steps were being taken to improve the system's accounts receivable to "refocus on generating some cash," Mr. Wright said.

The system is also committed to capping its corporate overhead at 7.5 percent of its net revenue. Such overhead includes departments such as IT, legal services and human resources.

"That's a good secret sauce for us," Mr. Wright said. "It used to be between 9.5 and 10 percent."

As well as West Virginia, WVU Medicine also operates in Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Wright also talked with Scott Becker on a recent podcast. For more details, click here.

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